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Winners and Finalists

Age category 19 to 25

Kristina Arakelyan (21) - WINNER
Penelope

Kristina Arakelyan was granted a scholarship to study piano and composition at the Purcell School of Music in 2006. She is currently a composition scholar at the Royal Academy of Music. Aged 15, she won first prize in the BBC Proms Inspire Young Composers' Competition; other awards include overall cup winner of the EPTA Composers' Competition (2009), the David Cox prize (2012) and first prize in the 'Shakespeare 400' Orchestra of the Swan Young Composers' Competition (2014). In 2011 she was commissioned by Music for Youth to write a choral piece that was performed at the Schools Prom in the Royal Albert Hall; she has also been commissioned by Grace Francis to write a piano piece that was broadcast on BBC Radio 3 (2015) and in Florida. Her compositions have also been performed at the Vatroslav Lisinsky Hall (Croatia), Real Conservatorio Superior de Música in Madrid (Spain), and in London at the Wigmore Hall, St Martin-in-the-Fields and the Southbank Centre. 

The poem 'Penelope' by Carol Ann Duffy appealed to me because of the vivid imagery and because of the inspiring journey we see in Penelope's life. Contrary to the description in Greek mythology in which Penelope uses treachery to repel her suitors by telling them that she will accept their advances once she has finished embroidering, Carol Ann Duffy tells an entirely different story by focusing on the female perspective. She speaks of a woman who has found her life's purpose, her talent, and is preoccupied with pursuing it. The most exciting part of the poem for me was the sheer delight of being wrapped in your internal world of creativity ¬- something that Duffy herself felt when writing about Penelope's embroidery, and that I felt as I wrote music to her poem. In my music I describe Penelope's psychological journey through the repetition of the beginning theme with different accompanying harmonies to symbolise growth. I have also used the Dorian and Phrygian modes in the harmonic and melodic construction in order to evoke what the Ancient Greek lyre may possibly have sounded like. The lute adds a very exciting and original colour and is very much in keeping with the idea of the ancient and the exotic that is explored in the theme of the poem.  


Alan Barclay (25)
Persephone in Repose

Alan Barclay is currently based in Belfast, where he is working towards a PhD in composition under Simon Mawhinney at Queen's University Belfast. He read Music at the University of Liverpool and had the opportunity to study composition with James Wishart. He also holds a MA in Hispanic Music from the University of Valladolid. His work focuses particularly on the use of non-canonical or exotic sound worlds. Alongside composing, he is an ardent promoter of contemporary music, having established the Belfast branch of CoMA (Contemporary Music for All). 
 
'Persephone in Repose' is a setting of the poem 'Demeter' by Carol Ann Duffy, in which the Greek goddess Demeter laments the loss of her daughter Persephone to the underworld. The poem challenges traditional male-orientated myths and legends, and creates stories instead from a female point of view. The storyline of my piece, however, puts the focus on the father, whose grief is equally felt. This is reflected in the title, where the subject of a mourning Persephone is the focal point. The piece is through-composed, and seeks to evoke grief through the use of dissonance with sparse consonance, as well as often disjointed movements of the lute and voice.


Christian Drew (22)
Sonnet 147

Christian Drew was born in the USA and began his music education as a piano student at the New School for Music Study in Kingston, New Jersey. After moving to the UK at the age of 9 he developed diverse musical interests and went on to study classical guitar, classical singing, jazz piano and audio engineering. While attending Guildford County School (a specialist music college) he founded and led the GCS Ukulele Ensemble, a group of young musicians who performed at the 2011 Schools Prom at the Royal Albert Hall. Now in his final year of a BA in Music at the University of Southampton, he has developed a particular interest in the study and composition of new music, studying with Matthew Shlomowitz, Benjamin Oliver and Michael Finnissy. His current compositional interests include fragility and instability in sound, extended durational processes, sustained homogeneity, and pared down, primary materials. He is also currently the Assistant Conductor of the Southampton University Symphony Orchestra.

Shakespeare's protagonist is faced with a paradox: what is longed for only exacerbates sickness. The tension between desire and reason shapes the narrative, as the balance of cooperation and conflict between lute and voice remains in a continual state of flux. An unruly yearning is pitted against sanity through a harmonic language that rests in a liminal position between diatonic and disjunct modalities. Familiar gestures are embellished and exaggerated as rationality is repressed by a fated hunger, and asynchronous flourishes prolong the struggle to suppress madness as it reaches an apex. Delusion prevails as a disjointed outpour marks the revelation that the object of desire is not as it seems, and reason can finally reveal the corruption at play. Fragmented stability ensues and the depraved truth is met with a despondent resignation. 

Robin Haigh (23)
Three Littul Ayres

Robin Haigh studied Music at Goldsmiths, University of London, and studied composition privately with Dmitri Smirnov. He is currently working on his postgraduate degree at the Royal Academy of Music supervised by Edmund Finnis, while also receiving lessons from Oliver Knussen and Michael Finnissy. His pieces have been conducted by John Butt, Gregory Rose and Ian Gardiner, with ensembles such as CHROMA, the Dunedin Consort, and CoMA London and Sussex. His Fantasy for Piano and Ensemble has been performed once in London and twice in Paris with Jules Cavalié and the Goldsmiths Chamber Orchestra. His opera The Man Who Woke Up was premiered in London in 2015, and will receive its American premiere in May 2016 with Thompson Street Opera Company.
 
In this piece, I wanted to exaggerate the idea of 'small-scale' music-making that comes with a song in a chamber setting, as opposed to a large orchestral piece or opera. So, rather than setting Shakespeare's text as a three-minute song, it becomes a trio of one-minute songs, each highly characterised by different lute figurations. This exaggeration is strengthened by the fact that there is almost no repetition in the vocal melody, which is free flowing, and meant to sound almost improvisatory.


Age category 18 and under
Alex Dakin (18) - WINNER
Sonnet 147

Alex Dakin was born in Macclesfield, Cheshire. He lived in Villasanta, Italy, and Deal, Kent, before moving back to Cheshire in 2008. He took up the piano at the age of 7, and three years later he began learning to play the cello. Soon after he started taking an interest in composing. He was awarded a place at Chetham's School of Music in 2011, where he now studies composition with Jeremy Pike. He has composed a variety of pieces, including two orchestral tone poems, a piano sonata and a string quartet. His septet Abhorrentes was highly commended in the BBC Proms Inspire Young Composers' Competition in 2013, and his piano sonata won the under-16 category of the EPTA Composers' Competition in the same year. His interest in early music largely stems from his experiences accompanying songs by Dowland in arrangements for viola da gamba and harpsichord.
 
The structure of this song is based on the sonnet's changes in mood and tone, so I have divided it into three sections. The first section seeks to convey the narrator's yearning and the solemnity of the sonnet. Words like 'longing' and 'preserve' are given extended durations, and the lute accompaniment consists mostly of single notes, simple rhythms and slowly changing harmony. The second section follows the narrator's descent into madness. The writing here is more frantic, with shorter note durations and wider leaps for the voice, as well as a faster harmonic rhythm in the lute. In the third section the narrator condemns love to be 'as dark as night.' Here the texture and melody are similar to the opening, though the lute's open harmonics add a touch of coldness to the music. The choice of a very low register for the singer adds to the darkness and pessimism of the final lines.

 
Oscar Ridout (17) 
Demeter

Oscar Ridout is in his last year at school, where he is studying A levels in Music, Spanish, Art and English Literature. He hopes to take up a place at the University of Cambridge to read Music in the autumn, and intends to continue composition at postgraduate level. He has written for various forces and has had his work performed in diverse situations, including at the London Festival of Contemporary Church Music. Both a trumpeter and a singer, he has performed with Bromley Youth Music Trust and the National Youth Choirs of Great Britain. He is also a pianist and organist.  

My setting of Carol Ann Duffy's 'Demeter' is an exploration of text and emotion in a deeply personal style. The text expresses deep and universal sentiments of desolation and reawakening through complex webs of metaphor and reference to Greek mythology, and I sought not to capture that in sound but to add to and develop it with further layers of sonic metaphor. The two halves of the text - winter to spring, solitude to companionship - are enhanced by a journey from musical uncertainty and tension to harmonic relaxation and homeliness, as a shifting modality around the lute's 'home' key of G is gradually formed.

Felix Saward (17)
If love make me forsworn

Felix Saward began composing at an early age, but developed a real passion for it after starting at Dartford Grammar School, where he spent most of his lunch times in the music rooms, creating various pieces - some arrangements, others new works. In 2014 he started as bassoonist and composer at Junior Trinity (at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance). He has composed a variety of pieces, including an oboe and bassoon duo, which was presented in front of Robert Saxton at a Trinity workshop and masterclass, and a three-movement harpsichord concerto. He is currently focusing on a sextet and is working towards completing his International Baccalaureate in 2017.

This work for tenor and lute is in compound time, but although written mainly in 9/8 time, it has a rather ambiguous strong beat, leading to a slight sense of unsettlement. After the establishment of the main idea, the music breaks away halfway into the poem into a much more syncopated and driving sequence, which allows a different atmosphere to be created. The text in the second part of the poem is more atmospheric, with a wider sense of imagery. This led me to use a wider tessitura in both the tenor and the lute, with accented chords from the latter. The music also gains a certain amount of freedom here, due to pauses and an ad-lib bar. This culminates in a climactic point over the words 'thunder' and 'lightning', before somewhat calming to the more lyrical ideas outlined at the start.

Katrina Toner (18)
Demeter

Katrina Toner is currently in her final year at school. She studies composition with David Sutton-Anderson, and is especially interested in American contemporary classical music, with particular reference to Philip Glass, Nico Muhly and Mason Bate; she is also influenced by composers such as Stravinsky and Messiaen, drawn to their rhythmic devices. She was a finalist in the English Schools' Orchestra Composing Competition 2015/16, and will attend the 2016 Curtis Summerfest Young Artist Program. She is also a violinist, and studied the violin at the Royal College of Music Junior Department. She has performed throughout Europe, both as an orchestral player and as a chamber musician. An experienced orchestral leader, she led the Berkshire Youth Symphony Orchestra in the Royal Albert Hall in October 2015.

When I was setting the words of 'Demeter' I wanted to focus on the maternal energy expressed in the poem. Therefore I chose to use the phrase 'my daughter, my girl' at the beginning of the piece as well as further on, within the text. I was also struck by the poem's simple and almost organic quality, and I wanted to mirror this in the music by limiting the complexity of the setting. I was very conscious of colour when writing this piece, and I was keen to express the different colours and sounds of the poem's words in the music. For example, the harsh tone of certain passages is conveyed by accents and syncopation, whereas the warmth of others is expressed through lyrical crotchet triplets. The end of the piece looks to the future, to something new and exciting, illustrated by semiquavers in the lute and a high F in the voice, both forte.